At Sotheby’s, the crown is king.
The plastic topper worn by Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace in his last photo shoot sold for $475,000 during an auction Tuesday night — despite its original $6 price tag.
At the auction house’s first hip-hop memorabilia auction — which featured a one-of-a-kind Def Jam Recordings jacket, a triptych of pioneering DJs painted by Fab 5 Freddy and Judith Leiber’s crystal-encrusted handbag inspired by a boombox — the crown’s original purchaser said he didn’t buy the royal-rig for its gold content and embedded jewels.
“This crown is a novelty item; I bought it at a place on Broadway called Gordon’s,” said Barron Claiborne, a 57-year-old photographer who lives in Brooklyn. Claiborne owned the crown and used it in the stunning Rap Pages magazine cover-photo he took of Biggie in 1997. “Without Biggie, the crown would not be worth [six figures]. I only paid six bucks for it.”
What did Claiborne make of the fact that his crown — along with a pair of prints from the session, plus a photo contact sheet — opened with a quickly met estimate of $200,000 to $300,000?
“Some people have told me that it’s too low,” Claiborne coolly stated ahead of the hammer coming down. “That shows you how strong the symbol really is. I always thought Biggie was a king.”
In fact, he admitted the payday is a step up from what he earned for shutterbugging the rapper.
“I’m not sure that I even got paid for it,” he said. “I was mostly shooting celebrities and reportage. I did this because I liked taking pictures of Biggie. The time before, I photographed him in a white suit — instead of the tracksuit that most rappers were wearing back in 1997.”
Amazingly, the royally inspired shot of Biggie Smalls — designed to illustrate yet another one of his nicknames: King of New York — almost didn’t happen. Sean “Puffy” Combs, the owner of Bad Boy Records, the label for which Biggie recorded, was at the shoot and scoffed at Claiborne’s concept.
“He said it would make Biggie look like Burger King,” recalled Claiborne. “But Biggie didn’t listen. He wore it anyway. And nobody’s ever told me that they look at the photo and think the crown is plastic.”
That’s a testament to “the charisma of Biggie Smalls,” he said. “His power cancels out the fact that it is a novelty crown.”
‘Sean “Puffy” Combs said it would make Biggie look like Burger King.’
– Barron Claiborne
Tragically, though, even bulletproof charisma cannot deflect real bullets. At the time of the photo session, Biggie was in the middle of an East Coast-West Coast beef. Considering that none of the parties involved were, at the time, the types to settle differences in their lawyers’ conference rooms, things were life-or-death fraught. Inside Claiborne’s Grand Street studio, there were whispered concerns about an upcoming trip to Los Angeles.
“People were saying he shouldn’t go to California because of all the tension,” said the photographer, adding that Biggie died from gunshot wounds in LA on March 9, 1997 — three days after the session. “He had to be somewhat worried.”
The murder remains an open case.
As far as whom he thought would pay top price for the crown, Claiborne figured that several hip-hop moguls would be among the high bidders, dropping the names of Jay-Z, Nas and even the once-skeptical Puffy.
“Everybody in hip-hop is really inspired by Biggie,” Claiborne said. “The photo means a lot to people – more than I ever expected it to.”
Keith Hufnagel, skateboard legend, dead at 46
Keith Hufnagel, the pro-skateboarder who founded popular streetwear brand Huf Worldwide, has died at 46.
Hufnagel, who trailblazed the New York City skate scene during the 1990s, passed away after a two-and-a-half year battle with brain cancer.
Huf Worldwide released a statement following confirmation of their founder’s passing on Thursday.
“Keith loved skateboarding and the culture around it,” the brand said. “He did things his way and did them for the right reasons. He inspired so many of us across the globe.”
“But above anything else, Keith loved and supported the people around him. He would do anything for his friends, family and children. He passionately wanted to see others succeed. And we all loved him for it.”
USA Skateboarding, the sport’s official governing body and home to the Olympic skateboarding Team USA, also paid their respects to the legend.
“We are devastated to hear that Keith Hufnagel has passed away. His impact on skateboarding, both on his board and off it as a designer, brand owner/founder and friend will live forever. Rest in peace, Keith,” the organization said in a statement.
Tony Hawk called Hufnagel a “pioneer DIY businessman that valued integrity over profits,” in a Facebook post dedicated to the late athlete.
“It’s incredibly sad to hear about the passing of Keith Hufnagel. He was a skating legend of NYC and SF fame,” he wrote.
“I am thankful to have spent time with him during my Lakai days; he was the catalyst and my biggest advocate for joining the team. Thank you Huf for all of the good times and constant inspiration. Skateboarding is collectively mourning today.”
Indian musician S. P. Balasubrahmanyam dead at 74 of COVID-19
Bollywood has lost one of its biggest stars: musician S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, 74.
The singer who voiced thousands of musical pieces for Indian film had been on life support for more than a month after experiencing COVID-19-related pneumonia. He died Friday afternoon, CNN reported.
“In a further setback this morning, despite maximal life support measures and the best efforts of the clinical team, his condition deteriorated further and he suffered a cardio-respiratory arrest,” Anuradha Baskaran, Assistant Director of Medical Services at MGM Healthcare in Chennai, southeastern India, said in a statement.
Baskaran added that she was delivering the news “with profound grief.” His death comes as India marks more than 92,000 deaths — the third most in the world after Brazil and the US.
Fans mourned the loss of the music icon, who recorded the songs mouthed by actors in famous romantic Bollywood films: “He made the ’90s kids fall in love with the idea of love,” a News18 column noted.
India’s Prime Minister also issued a statement on the singer’s passing, invoking the peace prayer “Om Shanti.”
Others chimed in with their remembrances.
How ‘Rocky Horror’ went from tiny musical to filthy phenom
Dammit, Janet, you’re 45!
A science-fiction, B-movie-style musical, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” opened Sept. 25, 1975, and became the king of cult hits after the Waverly Theater (now the IFC Center) in Greenwich Village began showing it at midnight in 1976. But these were no normal screenings. Raucous, foul-mouthed viewers were yelling “A - - hole!” at the bespectacled hero Brad Majors, played by Barry Bostwick, and “Slut!” at virgin heroine Janet Weiss, a young Susan Sarandon. Many of the funny shouts are, ahem, unprintable.
That wild mood led to average Joes dressing up in leather corsets and chunky heels, or stripping down to lily-white skivvies, and bringing prop newspapers, gloves and flashlights. The trend expanded to hundreds of theaters and college campuses worldwide. And when cinemas reopen, fans will continue the tradition — more than four decades later.
“I love that audiences have derived such pleasure from it,” director and co-writer Jim Sharman, 75, told The Post from his home in Australia. “Whether you dismiss it as B-movie schlock — which some of it is, often deliberately so — or perceive its depths which simmer below the surface, or treat it as wallpaper for a party, it seems to satisfy some mysterious need.”
I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey . . . to the origins of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
The musical started out in 1972 as little more than an idea for an intimate rock show. Sharman was an Australian theater and film director living in London, who had a hit with the West End production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” At the time, Sam Shepard had asked Sharman to direct his play “The Unseen Hand” there, featuring a British actor named Richard O’Brien as an alien.
“Richard showed me a sketch, about 10 pages from memory, called ‘They Came From Denton High’ and played me the opening song ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’ accompanying himself on guitar,” Sharman said. “It chimed with my interests. We were a generation brought up on sci-fi and late-night movies, which we loved. And after suggesting a name change — it was a rock ‘n’ roll horror show, so why not say what it is, was my logic — it developed into ‘Rocky Horror.’ ”
Sharman secured the upstairs space at the Royal Court Theatre, and O’Brien would not only compose the rockin’ songs such as “Time Warp” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me,” but play the long-haired handyman, Riff Raff.
“Rocky Horror” was shaping up, but it had an itch to scratch and needed assistance. The perfect actor had to be found to play Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite who hosts the annual Transylvania Convention at his foreboding castle. Thankfully, a then-no-name actor arrived — Tim Curry.
“Tim auditioned singing Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti,’ ” Sharman said. “He ripped the Royal Court roof off. He had it, then and there . . . and, beneath the makeup, Tim was that rare thing, a thinking actor with an adventurous streak, and [had] the technical chops to really deliver. He simply got it.”
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” opened in 1973 and was a hot ticket overnight.
“We really thought we were doing an indie musical for three weeks at the Theatre Upstairs on no budget and minimum fees for the love and anarchy of it,” Sharman said. “But when rock stars and famous artists were fighting for tickets, it sunk in.”
Film and record producer Lou Adler saw the show when it transferred to a larger theater. Adler was a huge name, having produced Carole King’s “Tapestry,” and wanted to stage the show in LA and then make a film of “Rocky Horror.” He believed in the material, and let Sharman and O’Brien run wild.
“Beyond a cut to the final song in an early version, quickly reversed following some fan complaints, to my knowledge, there was little to no studio interference in the movie,” Sharman said. “By agreeing to a very low budget and a very short schedule, which guaranteed a lot of the original creatives their rightful role in its making, it slipped under the radar.”
Curry and O’Brien reprised their iconic roles on-screen, joined by Sarandon, Bostwick and Meat Loaf as Eddie. There were also some added duties for the composer. Onstage, the opening song “Science Fiction/Double Feature” was sung by a female usherette, but that fateful 1972 meeting with O’Brien lingered in Sharman’s mind for years.
“I never forgot Richard’s haunting, yet slightly androgynous, voice singing ‘Science Fiction’ the first time I heard it, so I thought he should sing it,” Sharman said.
O’Brien wouldn’t just stand still and perform, though. Sharman wanted lips. Big red lips. Inspired by the surrealist films of Luis Buñuel and a Man Ray painting of a floating mouth in production designer Brian Thomson’s office, Sharman decided he had to have smackers and teeth.
“There were a lot of mouths and lips floating around at the time!” he said.
The director had also had a dream one night in which “Riff Riff and Magenta somehow coalesced into one androgynous being.” This is why, in the film, we see actress Patricia Quinn’s lips and hear O’Brien’s sky-high voice. Like the rest of the movie, that mouth has stayed an iconic image in pop culture.
Today, Sharman is hardly a one-hit wonder, having remained a prolific theater director in Australia. Despite working often, he looks back fondly on the “mental mind f - - k” he gave the world.
“I love that outsiders have found a movie that speaks to them. It’s certainly the late-night audience who made it a classic,” Sharman said. “It wasn’t made like any other movie and was left alone to be itself, so it has a life of its own.”
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